Paul Tremblay is the author of such acclaimed horror novels as A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World, as well as a brand-new short story collection, Growing Things and Other Stories, that just came out last month. This week, he dropped by r/Fantasy for an AMA, where he shared writing advice, publishing tips, inspirations, the story (or a story) behind his deep hatred of pickles, and LOTS of horror recs. Here are the highlights!
On what scares him:
I’m scared of the dark and what’s in the closet and in the basement and under the bed sometimes still.
But the real world and nuclear war and environmental devastation keeps me up at night.
On whether he ever scares himself:
Usually I don’t scare myself. I’m too close to the moving gears and the man behind the curtain of the story (um, that man is me, I guess). I did get scared writing my story “Haunted House Tours…” for Ellen Datlow’s ECHOES (ghost antho coming soon) when I was writing the creepy end scene. It wasn’t the scene itself but while working a big bottle of shampoo fell in the bathroom upstairs. Man, I was totally freaked out the noise, covered in gooseflesh.
On his approach to writing scary scenes:
I’m a terrible judge of what I think is scary, or what someone else might find scary. It’s so subjective. I focus on building up the characters and making disturbing scenarios. I think disturbing is a bit more universal than a scare. Then if it scares someone, great! I tend to edit a scene and think am I moving the reader emotionally in some way. If you’re more emotionally connected, then I think that can equate to a scare too.
On the inspiration behind A Head Full of Ghosts:
I was reading a book of essays on the film (Studies in the night film from Centipede press) and it sort of hit me that there hadn’t been a possession novel done in quite a while. I thought how would I do one? And i thought right away I wanted to treat it as skeptically and realistically as possible. From there it morphed into the theme of ambiguity
On his favorite books and writers:
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, Books of Blood by Clive Barker, The Stand + Nightshift by King, Ghost Story by peter straub, Haunted by Joyce Carol Oates, Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and more recently, Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez […] also Kurt Vonnegut and Aimee Bender. Really, I’m inspired by so many.
On the story that turned him into a reader:
Short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates and The Stand by King turned me into a reader when I was 22. Then for two years I read all the King/Straub/Oates/Jackson I could get my hands on.
On the scariest book he’s ever read:
It might be House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill. It’s one creepy book.
On horror writers more people should know:
I don’t know if people are missing him but John Langan should be on the lips and in the eyes of all horror writers. Also Nadia Bulkin and Mariana Enriquez
On his favorite short story collections:
Ooh, so many. Just in the last few years favorites include Things We Lost in in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez; Wounds, Nathan Ballingrud; She Said Destroy, Nadia Bulkin; any of the collections from John Langan, Laird Barron.
All timers include Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Aimee Bender. Haunted by Joyce Carol Oates. Night Shift and Skeleton Crew by King. Interior Darkness by Peter Straub.
On his favorite horror podcasts:
I wish I had more time for podcasts but I do enjoy This is Horror, the Brian Keene Show, Ladies of the Night, when I can catch them. I probably most consistently listen to Shock Waves.
On the next Paul Tremblay novel:
It’s about a Michael Cisco monster
Well, actually, it’s a kind of riff on a zombie/infected novel.
And, finally, on what pickles ever did to him:
Nasty terrible things. Also, when I was 7 a babysitter stuck one in my ear while i was sleeping. True story.
Head on over to r/Fantasy for the rest of his AMA!